Top positive review
Depressing but action packed story of Mexican American drug wars
26 March 2019
This is a big, long book covering the fights about narcotics in Mexico and the US 2004-2014. In interview Don Wilson makes the point that anything in his book that seems over the top isn’t. Every act of horrendous violence portrayed has an equivalent in real life. With the last book in this trilogy (this is the second) just out, Rolling Stone asked how writing these three books has changed him. He replied, “I’m sadder.” It’s certainly the response anyone might have on reading the books. They show a world where the power of drug money has resulted in countless deaths, tortures, rapes, political corruption and stagnation, the evisceration of whole swathes of countryside as people - desperate for peace and safety - flee. Mexico was a country with a vibrant intellectual and cultural life but found itself essentially ruled by vicious warlords. As usual, it’s mostly the poor and the powerless who pay. As manufacturing shifted to China those at the bottom of the socioeconomic pyramid had few options other than to work for the narcos and it becomes a soul destroying existence. The point is frequently made that this trade can only exist because Americans buy the drugs. Also: guns and other weapons flow in the other direction, propping up the US economy and further destabilising Mexico.
The fictional characters Winslow has created all have their counterparts in the real world. We have a succession of narcos, anti-drug enforcers, journalists, politicos and poor, often really brave people sucked up and spat out by this toxic world. The hero, or antihero, Mexican American Art Keller, is a maverick who works for the DEA (one of the many government agencies with overlapping concerns). His nemesis is druglord Adan Barrera (based on the real life Guzman). Some way through the book Keller has to unwillingly change tack because however horrible Barrera is, the flow of drugs will never be stopped and Barrera at least sticks to drugs only, unlike other more psychotic narcos who engage in kidnapping and extortion as well. It’s an evil world with an evil ending, where tension never flags. One further point: we often hear that most readers of fiction are women. This is a book that will appeal to men. Indeed it’s apparently handed to government agency recruits as a way of preparing them for what they’re getting into. Sobering, to say the least.